Will all college campuses reopen in the fall?

Surveys show some administrators considering online and hybrid classes next semester

Continuing online classes, suspending large lectures and delaying the semester are among the contingency plans colleges and universities are making in case the coronavirus outbreak keeps some or all campuses closed in fall 2020, The Boston Globe reports.

Administrators are also concerned about the size of freshmen enrollment and whether returning students might take a year off or even drop out, The Globe reported.

Surveys, for example, have found that interest in enrolling in colleges in Boston and New York has declined since those cities became COVID-19 hotspots and that parents facing financial strain are also considering keeping students closer to home, according to The Globe.

“Colleges have to assume that enrolling populations will be smaller than what they were,” Kristin R. Tichenor, a special consultant with Maguire Associates and senior adviser to the president at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, told The Globe. 

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Some 58% of higher ed respondents are considering or have already decided to continue online learning in fall 2020, according to an American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers survey of 262 institutions.

Moreover, 73% have increased or may increase the number of online/remote courses, the survey found.

Some of the more than 1,000 institutional members of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities are considering keeping campuses closed, the organization’s president, Barbara Mistick, told CNN.

“Most institutions need somewhere around a six-week to two-month runway to … be able to be open,” Mistick told CNN. “There is concern about bringing students back to campus too soon and perhaps having an outbreak.”

Examining fall 2020 alternatives

University of California, San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said staying online this fall “is completely within the realm of possibility,” The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

“We have not made a decision about the fall quarter yet,” Khosla told the Union-Tribune. “We are looking at multiple models and have activated a continuity of education task force, a continuity of research task force and are also working with public health experts to help inform such a decision in concert with the UC system.”

Across the country, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said that “back to normal probably is not likely” for his institution this fall without a COVID-19 vaccine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The university’s provost, Ann Cudd, is leading a group that is developing alternatives such as smaller classes and fewer students in residence halls, according to the Post-Gazette.

The campus could also modify university operations on “red flag” or “yellow flag” days as coronavirus risk levels fluctuate, the Post-Gazette reported. 

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The University of Maine System, meanwhile, is planning to phase-in face-to-face instruction when it opens its seven campuses the fall, Dan Demeritt, a system spokesman, told the Portland Press Herald.

The system may house all students in single dorm rooms and cancel large lectures. “As we return to traditional practices it will have to be done appropriately,” Demeritt to the Press Herald. 

Coronavirus could cause closures

Some campuses may not reopen at all—online or in-person.

Late last week, Jeb Spaulding, chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges System, recommended closing and merging Northern Vermont University’s two campuses into Castleton
University and shutting down Vermont Technical College’s s Randolph Center campus.

The system projects an operating deficit of $7 million to $10 million, including $5.6 million in student refunds for room and board due to the shift to remote instruction.

“We know the impacts of COVID-19 will linger for months, maybe years,” Spaulding said in a news release. “We cannot wait and hope for recovery, we must act decisively to chart a course toward long-term viability.”

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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